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California to Fund Construction of First Reservoir in Four Decades

Whiskeytown Lake (Ken Lund / Flickr / CC)
Ken Lund / Flickr / CC
Newport Beach, CA

The California Water Commission was awarded $816 million of Proposition 1 money to begin building the $5.2 billion Sites Reservoir — the state’s first big reservoir since the 1970s.

The $7.5 billion Proposition 1: Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014 bond was passed on a bi-partisan basis with seven funding categories of spending, including $2.7 billion pre-allocated for water storage projects only.

The other $4.8 billion of Prop 1 voter-approved cash was allocated to protecting rivers; groundwater sustainability; drought preparedness; water recycling; safe drinking water; and flood management projects.

Although $1.1 billion had already been awarded for 673 projects by December 2017, nothing had yet been awarded for water storage, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

The California Water Commission’s failure to move forward to fund any of the 12 proposed major above-ground water storage projects in four years prompted huge complaints from Republicans.

Assembly Republican Leader Brian Dahle (R-Redding) walked into the commission’s February meeting pulling a children’s red wagon with 4,000 signatures on petitions to accelerate funding the Sites Reservoir north of Sacramento, and Temperance Flat in the San Joaquin Valley. Dahle told the commissioners, “Farmers like myself are concerned about the shortage of water – we’re seeing another drought cycle,” according to the Sacramento Bee.

The commission finally announced $1 billion in funding on July 23 to expand Pacheco Pass Reservoir in southeastern Santa Clara County and Los Vaqueros in Contra Costa County. Temperance Flat dam on the San Joaquin River did receive $171 million, but supporters complained that the grant would cover only 6 percent of the $2.7 billion cost.

The commission followed up on July 25 with an $816 million award to fund Sites Reservoir, which will divert water from the Sacramento River in the three rainiest months of the year to create a new lake up to 520 foot deep that could store 1.81 million acre feet of water.

The Bee reported that although the Sites project received Prop 1’s top funding, supporters were angry that that the commission cut their request by more than half. At a total cost of $5.2 billion, it is unclear that the water districts that could benefit from the project will be able to line up the other $4.4 billion to break ground on the project.

Environmentalists are expected to claim that the Sites Reservoir is a threat to the Sacramento River’s fish populations, and file lawsuits to delay the project.

Photo: Whiskeytown Lake reservoir

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